Review: This Changes Everything

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Yesterday, I frequented a climate event in Umea, and had the privilege to watch This Changes Everything, of course streamed from a computer to a cinema screen. All those watching the improvised movie theatre left with sense of optimism and feel-good hope in their bellies.

All except one.

Sometimes, there can be a refreshment in bluntness. So, I would put forth my points in a very rash and frisky manner. I think ‘This Changes Everything’ is basically just stating what documentaries on the subject of Global Warming have been stating for the last twenty or so years.

Technically speaking, it is probably one of the best documentaries on the subject as of yet, filmed with HD cameras and tying together the issues of global warming with the de-facto disenfranchisement of local communities.

Still, I do believe that documentaries like these can do more harm than good, especially as Naomi Klein, one of the two producers and the author of the same book, have failed in defining the real problem with contemporary Capitalism.

Therefore, this entry, rather than being a whole review of the film, will focus on the issue of Naomi Klein’s background and how it can have influenced the film.

No Logo

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Naomi Klein, a journalist and author from Canada, became well-known within the Alt-Globalization Movement of the 1990’s, as a critic of the type of economic globalization which went into a new phase during that decade.

In her breakthrough book, No Logo, she made an ardent work visualising how multinational corporations are exploiting the absence of worker’s rights in third world nations, and how logotypes have turned into mythical symbols within advertisement.

Naomi Klein is highly critical of the economic school of monetarism – most often referred to as “neo-liberalism” by its critics – and generally is positively inclined towards protest movements against austerity, natural resources exploitation and anti-war sentiments.

All this is highly evident in “This Changes Everything”, and if you have read Klein before watching the film, you can be able to predict everything in it. That is not where my critique against Klein lies.

Klein’s thesis and solution

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Klein’s thesis in ‘This Changes Everything‘ is that the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century created a culture where we view nature as a resource to be exploited and the Earth as a “machine” that we have the power over and can manipulate as we want. This is also the reason behind for example the addiction to growth.

According to Klein, growth addiction is an example of a political choice that is ideologically structured and follows the principles of Capitalism, which in itself flows from the Scientific Revolution. As a conflicting principle, Klein presents the aboriginal principle of ‘the Earth as a nurturing mother’ and the principles of democratic sovereignty (hailing back to the populistic practices of Gaius Gracchus).

While not directly mentioned, it is indicated that the Scientific Revolution and Capitalism are masculine principles, while Nature worship and Democracy are feminine principles. For example, most of the proponents for democratic activist movements interviewed in the film are female, while most proponents for the exploitative forces that are interviewed are males.

Klein’s solution to the current problem is that the free market has caused these problems, and the solution should be to increase government interventionism and regulate the market more. Since the governments (according to Klein) do not desire to follow such policies, activist movements would have to protest and stop mining projects and then move on towards advocating public investments in green technology – solar panels and windmills everywhere.

Essentially, the solution is that people should protest to roll back deregulation to the 1970’s, while deepening democracy.

Klein is essentially right, or rather moving in the right direction in her critique of the current system. But her solutions are essentially flawed and (I would claim) build on several misunderstandings and ignorance.

The flaws of Klein’s solutions

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Naomi Klein makes three basic misunderstandings about the reality of the system we are living in, either because she herself has not studied these issues or because she deliberately omits to tell certain things which are essential to know if we truly want to change the system.

The first misunderstanding lies in the nature of the environmental crisis.

Klein focuses very much on climate change, but climate change is only one of five serious environmental challenges that are causing the current mass extinction as I write these words. The oceanic crisis, the soil crisis, the freshwater crisis and the biodiversity crisis are as serious for the well-being of life on Earth. Green energy won’t solve these problems, and emphasising this issue will block out public understanding of the other issues. I believe it is essential to see antropogenic climate change as a part of a wider environmental crisis caused by the current system.

The second misunderstanding lies in Klein’s understanding of free markets contra government intervention.

It seems that Klein has a very binary view on the system, which can be understood as ‘government intervention good’, ‘markets bad’. What that fails to account for is that both governments and private businesses operate as economic actors with the goal of creating economic growth. Keynesian economics have nearly exactly the same goals as monetarist economics, namely the stabilization of the growth curve to ensure stability for investors and economic growth. Keynesians want to focus on low unemployment, while monetarists see inflation as the main threat to the well-being of an economy. To a large extent, deregulation has been caused as much by technological development as by political choices – in an evolutionary process within Capitalism itself.

The third, and most serious misunderstanding, is the idea that economic growth primarily is an ideological choice, and that by consuming smarter and changing the ruling ideology from Liberalism to Green Social Democracy, we will have started to save the Earth.

The core of this lies in that Klein omits to put focus on the nature of money within the framework of modern Capitalism. Ultimately, money today is Debt. Within the banking system, banks only need to keep a part of the money of their clients as deposits, and can loan out the rest – as illustrated by the image above. This means that from an  original deposit of $1000, the bank can create an additional amount of money several times larger than the original $1000.

These loans from the bank have to be repaid with interest. Since both the loans and the interest is created from capital that doesn’t currently exist, this demands that the capital is created. And most of that capital is created from turning parts of the Earth into utilities for the market. This means that the current system both demands a constant growth rate and the continued transformation of the biosphere into linear production units to satisfy the demand for exponential growth as seen in these oil palm plantations in Sumatra.

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For a more comprehensive description, see this entry.

Summary

I hold no doubt that Naomi Klein truly believes that the current situation represents a mortal threat, but I suspect that she also is emotionally invested for other reasons in moving away from monetarism towards neo-keynesianism.

The problem is of course that neither of these two systems are able to solve the current ecological crisis.

Now it is possible to claim that different documentaries should focus on different issues, and that nobody can focus on everything, but by many small groups focusing on different issues, we will together solve the problem and making the world a better place.

The problem is of course that ‘This Changes Everything‘ is claiming to present the path-way to solve the entire problem of climate change, by connecting it to economic growth and questioning its ideological foundations. The thing is, economic growth is not an ideological choice, but a survival imperative for the current system.

Therefore, no matter if it is monetaristic neo-liberalism or green social democracy, the system demands the repayment of debt, and in order to repay the debt more resources would have to be transformed to utilities. If the shark doesn’t swim, it drowns.

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Omitting the ‘shark in the bath-tub’ is a disservice, since it doesn’t correctly informs activists about the true nature of the socio-economic system and keeps them preoccupied with trails of thought that only move around in circles.

I am truly impressed by the engagement of First Nations activists who protest against the tar sands in Canada. I also share Naomi Klein’s sentiments that the reason for our destruction does not lie in human nature. Yet, I think that any failure to mention the problems with fractional reserve banking is going to hurt all those people ultimately, since even if they achieve their political objectives, they won’t be able to change the system if they don’t understand it.

 

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The 15-11-24 Incident and geopolitical ramifications

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Not since the days of the Cold War have we been as close to a direct military confrontation between Russia and the West (represented by NATO) as today. The 2015.11.24 Incident I refer to is of course the event when two Turkish F16 planes downed a Russian Su-24. The graveness of the situation is accentuated by the fact that one of the two Su-24 pilots was killed by Syrian rebels when he landed (which directly contradicts the Turkish claims that the plane was violating Turkish air-space).

Theoretically, Russia could choose to respond in line, thereby activating Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, stipulating that if one NATO member is attacked by a non-NATO member, the other members of NATO have a collective responsibility to defend the attacked party.

Major wars have been initiated by minor incidents like these before. The First World war began due to the murder of the Austro-Hungarian heir. The Second World war ignited because of the status of a League of Nations-administered city on the Baltic Sea coast.

This is indeed a very dangerous situation. In order to understand what will most likely happen, we must understand the likely reason why this happened now, what the motivations are (since I as a political scientist strongly suspect that this was deliberate) and what the various actors hope to achieve.

TL;DR summary

  • Turkey and Russia have almost always since the 16th century, bar from a period during the 20th century, had competing geopolitical interests.
  • Syria, a heterogeneous powderkeg located between Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, has almost always been a region of contention between empires.
  • Russia is ultimately in a status of partial recovery from the hiatus of the 1990’s, while Turkey is an emergent great power.
  • Both Russia and Turkey are governed by de-facto autocrats who are partially building their legitimacy on a strongman image.
  • Russia and the West have supported different sides in the Syrian Civil War since it began.
  • The Bataclan terror attack in Paris has led to an increased pressure for West European powers to respond to the Islamic State, leading to talks with Moscow.
  • The 15.11.24 incident is ultimately an attempt by Turkey to prevent the emergence of a NATO-Russia consensus on the Syrian Civil War.

Background

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The Zaparozhye Cossacks Writing a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan *oil on canvas *358 × 203 cm *signed b.c.: И.Репин 1880-91

The Ottoman Empire, the precursor to the modern Turkish state, and the Moscow Tsardom, the precursor of the various incarnations of the modern Russian state, both emerged during the late 15th century as players in the eastern European periphery, the first one controlling the south-east corner and the second one the north-east corner.

Russia emerged in a state of constant conflict with Turko-Mongol khanates located on the steppes, crushing the Golden Horde and two of its three successor states – the Astrakhan and Kazan khanates.

The third successor state, the Crimean Khanate, was kept in suspended animation by becoming an Ottoman vassal state. With the support of their powerful backer in Constantinople, the Crimean Tartars managed to survive until 1783, when Catherine the Great abolished the Khanate and annexed it to Russia, initiating a colonisation of Crimea with ethnic Russians.

The accession of Crimea to Russia ended the phase when Turkey played offensively. During the 19th century, Russia made inroads in Central Asia, the Caucasus region and the Balkans, contributing to the liberation of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, and waging several large-scale wars against the Ottoman Empire.

In 1914 – 1924, following the re-ordering of the world after WW1, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the Orthodox Russian Empire was replaced with the Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union, which re-oriented the geopolitical aims of Russia west instead of south.

Turkey found itself as a minor player in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, desperately oriented towards western powers in order to modernise the country’s military and economy. With the exception of the 1974 intervention in Cyprus, Turkey has pursued a defensive policy engaged to the European sphere.

During the early 2000’s, the fall of the Soviet Union combined with the ascent of the moderately islamistic AKP, spelled room for a reorientation of Turkey’s geopolitical ambitions. Increasingly clear that Turkey would not become a part of the European Union within a foreseeable future (because of resistance from continental powers like France, Italy and Belgium), Turkey instead increasingly came to increase its diplomatic presence in the Middle East, trying to use its status as one of the strongest economies in the region as a way to increase its influence in the Middle East.

For a long while, Erdogan – then prime minister – moved towards improving the relations between Turkey and Iran, as well as the emerging Iranian sphere, partially helped by the 2006 Litani War between Hezbollah and Israel. This closeness between Iran, Syria and Turkey even involved joint military exercises.

All this, of course, was changed by the Arab Spring in 2011…

The Syrian Quagmire

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The Syrian Civil War began in earnest because Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, instead of negotiating with the protesters demanding democratic elections and reforms in 2011, decided to use force to scare people from protesting – evocating the memory of his late father Hafez al-Assad, who instigated the 1982 Hama Massacre, leaving possibly 20 000 people dead.

While Bashar al-Assad has failed to keep large swathes of Syria to slide out of the grip of the Ba’ath Party, he has managed to keep the Syrian state intact, partially because of the fragmented ethnic and sectarian build-up of Syrian society, where the dictator belongs to a sectarian minority – the Alawites – who predominatly can be found in western Syria. As the Syrian rebellion took on more and more ethnic, religious and sectarian traits, the groups that would be grimly affected under the rule of a more theocratic Sunnite-dominated Syria came to coalesce around the regime, in either outright collaboration or friendly cooperative neutrality.

Internationally, Syria is at the centre of a Cold War between three regional powers, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, Syria has also enjoyed good relations with Russia since Russia still was the Soviet Union. The West, having seen an opportunity to get rid of a regime which is both extremely brutal and opposed to the 1979 Camp David peace accords between the Arab World and Israel, also involved, albeit half-heartedly.

In 2013, Russia and the West for the first time confronted one another about Syria, followed the Ghouta Gas Attack, with both parties sending fleets to the Eastern Mediterranean – covered in an earlier post at the EOS Horizon. I already back then warned that if the situation allows to continue with both sides increasing their support for the warring factions, it can escalate until the Syrian Civil War triggers a larger war.

In late 2015, Russia became the first non-regional actor to directly intervene in Syria, officially to strike at the Islamic State positions inside Syria, but de-facto attacking other rebel groups, some of which are supported by the West, Turkey, the GCC, or all of these actors. In fact, Russia’s strikes have been mostly directed against rebel positions near the al-Nusra-controlled city of Idlib in Syria.

One should however remember, that al-Nusra is a part of al-Qaeda, a group reminiscent… or rather nearly identical to the Islamic State in ideology/theology. In fact, the Islamic State was born due to a split with al-Qaeda, regarding conflicts over Syrian oil wells.

The role of the Bataclan Tragedy

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The Russian intervention which began the 30th of September 2015 after a formal request of the Syrian regime, already had changed the playing field. It had virtually ensured that no outside force would intervene against the Ba’ath dictatorship, and also changed the frame of the Geneva peace talks, where the Western line was that for a peace treaty to emerge, Bashar al-Assad had to resign as president, while Russia wanted to seek an arrangement where their influence in Syria would be preserved, seeing the continuation – at least for a few years – of al-Assad, as a precondition for this.

Following the Russian intervention, the West signalled – slowly – that it was ready to accept that al-Assad resigned later. Russia also signalled their willingness to compromise, stating that they did not seek to keep al-Assad in power but to “defend the sovereignty of the Syrian people in the choice of their leader”.

This trend started to marginalise Turkey, which has tacitly approved – during the course of the civil war – the growth of the Islamic State, and consistently seen Syrian and Iraqi Kurds as a greater menace than the Islamic State. Turkey has also stepped up as a patron of groups of rebels in northern Syria.

However, Turkey has not played a significant role as an actor in the Geneva talks between the West, Russia and Iran, and was thus already then marginalised.

The Bataclan tragedy in Paris, which left 130 dead and has shocked the European Union, has led to increased calls from the French government regarding a joint Western European intervention against the Islamic State.

The Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, has used this opportunity to call for a collaboration between the Russian and Western interventions in Syria, partially to help drag West further towards the Russian position in the Geneva talks, and to set pressure on the continental powers to reduce the Crimea/Donbass sanctions against the Russian economy.

In fact, a meeting is planned to occur between Hollande and Putin in this week to discuss a joint strategy against the Islamic State.

The Batman Gambit of Erdogan

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No, I am not referring to the Turkish city of Batman, but to a Batman Gambit. That is a TV tropes reference to a strategic plan which for its success demands that all actors act in a manner consistent with that the machinator of the plan originally has envisioned.

It can of course be a genuine incident, the 15.11.24 incident that is. But that it happens so close to a major potential reapproachment between Europe and Russia talks against it, especially since the Turkish regime does not want to be further marginalised from the Syrian theatre.

Thus, Turkey has done the unthinkable. It has downed a Russian Su-24. It has downed a Su-24 of a nuclear weapons-equipped state with inter-continental ballistic missiles.

If the Turkish military did  – as I suspect – this intentionally, the purpose would be to mar the talks between Hollande and Putin, most likely by provoking a Russian counter-reaction which can lead to a minor conventional military conflict between Russia and Turkey. Since Turkey is a member of NATO, this would effectively then prevent the reapproachment between West and Russia, and serve to help Turkey keep some of its influence in northern Syria.

The problem of course is, what if Putin chooses to ignore this?

What will happen?

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Vladimir Putin has a popular image amongst both his admirers and detractors as a warlike macho leader. What we tend to forget however, is his background within the Soviet Intelligence Network – largely still the same people which surrounds him. Thus, the Russian regime does not think in terms of tankie philosophy but in terms of blocking western incursions into the Russian interest sphere, by freezing conflicts, and then try to gain  or keep influence outside the Russian sphere. The important thing is not military bravado, rather it is considered a measure of last resort.

In fact, the 15.11.24 incident can be utilized by Putin to further marginalise Turkey within NATO, and to speed on the Euro-Russian alliance against the Islamic State, which is contrary to what the original intention of the idea to down a Russian Su-24 was aimed to achieve.

So, most likely, we will see at least a symbolic number of French and other West European jets being allowed into Syria, either from the Charles the Gaulle Aircraft Carrier, or by using the Russian airbase in Syria. If this cooperation becomes formal, then Turkey would not be able to shoot down another Russian plane without becoming even further marginalised than it already is.

There is however a wildcard.

If there is a risk that this incident was approved by the United States, that means that the situation gets more complicated. That could mean that the US could exert pressure on France to not cooperate with Russia in Syrian air-space, leading to an increased risk for “incidents” to occur.

What ought to happen

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The Ba’ath Regime in Syria is truly reprehensible, as is the Islamic State and many of the internationally backed rebel organisations. However, it is clear that the competing geopolitical aims of major powers until now have served to not only keeping this conflict hot, but also to gradually escalate it, contributing to the partial collapse of Iraq, the destabilization of Lebanese internal politics, and the current refugee crisis in parts of Europe.

Therefore, it is absolutely essential that the war is stopped at this point. It can either be stopped by an intervention from a foreign power, or through a peace accord.

It is doubtful if  Russia has the capacity to be that foreign power, and an intervention of the opposing side could lead to a major global conflict.

A peace accord however is possible, and there is only one major source of 200px-Bashar_al-Assad_(cropped)contention, namely the role of one man – Bashar al-Assad. If he doesn’t resign, neither the opposition nor the West wants to accept a peace treaty. If the west doesn’t drop its demand that the president resigns, then Russia and their allies refuse to accept a peace treaty.

Ultimately, the issue of Bashar al-Assad has to be removed from the table, either by his resignation or the resignation of the demands that he resigns. If and when that occurs, it will not spell the end of the War in Syria, since there – apart from the Islamic State – are hundreds of rebel groups that do not comprise the official Syrian opposition. If there is a peace treaty signed in March 2016, large-scale hostilities can (and probably will) still continue for several years, even after the inevitable destruction of the Islamic State.

Nevertheless, what must be done is to prevent an escalation of the war to a regional or global conflagration. Therefore, it would maybe – despite the 15.11.24 incident – be prudent to include Turkey in the peace talks. Either that, or Turkey must be completely relegated away from Syria as an actor.

No war will continue forever, even the Hundred Years War had to stop. The sooner we stop the Syrian Civil War however, the better for the world.

We need to focus on the global ecological threats, rather than on silly geopolitical issues that needlessly serve to kill hundreds of thousands.

Refugees: Present and future

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By Enrique Lescure

Introduction

Out of soon 8 billion people, around 50 million are refugees. That means that for roughly every 150th person on Earth, there is one refugee. Even though the numbers of wars have decreased generally since the 1950’s, there are more refugees than ever on Earth, and a lot of the refugee situations have been permanented – that means, refugee camps have turned from forests of tent into jungles of concrete, administered by the UNHCR and other organs, and the inhabitants have for several generations been trapped in a “ghost existence”, barred from their right to nationality, to travelling and in many cases to find a meaningful existence even within the confinements of the refugee camp. Many refugee camps are characterised by corruption, crime and violence.

Worse, many millions of refugees are living entirely outside of the system, undocumented in host societies which most often are unwilling and incapable of giving them basic human rights (remember, most refugees are in what until recently was termed “the Third World” (now being called “the Developing world” or rather “the Majority world”). Internally displaced people cannot flee the zones of conflict and are exposed to the horrors of war.

Worse even, is that there is a high risk that the problem of permanented refugees will grow during the 21st century, this time due not primarily to war, but to destruction of eco-systems and climate change. Therefore, it is essential that any form of transition which we – no matter what – must undertake, should transcend the established forms of thinking and problem-solution and approach the refugee crisis holistically on a global level.

First, the TL;DR summary

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  • The main cause of permanented refugee crises are failed or fragile states, as well as the idea that refugees should primarily return to their place of origin.
  • The global nation-state system is inadequate in managing refugee problems, due to the very logic of nation-states.
  • Climate change can easily increase the number of refugees world-wide five times, and will change the regional conditions on the planet, increasing crops fertility in the north and south while reducing it in the traditionally most productive region on the Earth, the temperate zones.
  • Refugees need to be integrated into the zones they settle as soon as possible.
  • The logical thing would be to create systems that allow people to redistribute their numbers to “regions of development”, while protecting the rights of settled communities to their own values and identity within the constraints of basic human rights and individual freedoms.

Refugee crises historically and contemporarily

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Refugees have always existed. Even before the industrial age, massive wars were fought and hundreds of thousands were displaced, as in China during the fall of the Tang and Song dynasties, or in Europe during the Hundred Years War, the Thirty Years War or many of the other political and religious conflicts throughout the continent. Just one thousand years ago, Asia Minor was culturally Greek and Armenian, and the Turks had just entered Iran from Central Asia and converted to Islam. Entire populations in Europe such as the Avars, the Celts or the Khazars were either expelled or genocided from large swathes of territory, or forcefully assimilated into new ethnic constellations. There were also refugee populations that moved into and between European countries – for example the Walloons who fled France for Sweden in the 17th century, and the Roma community throughout Europe, which has migrated from today’s India during frog-leaps for little over a millennium.

After the Second World war, millions of Germans and Poles were moved west, and around a million Finns were moved from Karelia into Finland proper. One could expect that Europe would be cluttered with refugee camps up until this day – yet no one today talks about Silesian refugees in Germany or Karelian refugees in Finland as a matter-of-day contemporary political fact.

Some might like to attribute this to some claimed innate European ability to organise societies. However, if we look at Europe in 1945-1950, we would see a continent largely impoverished and in ruins, receiving massive aid from the United States in the form of the Marshall Plan. The influx of credit and machinery opened up the opportunity to rapidly rebuild and develop the Western European economies following the war. Even though the Marshall Plan only provided a small fragment of capital transmissions, it proved enough to restore confidence in the European recovery. As the economy recovered from a very low level, the refugees were needed as labour in the reconstruction of European towns and European infrastructure.

If we instead postulate that the Marshall Plan had not been initiated, the recovery would have been much slower which could have permanented or semi-permanented the refugee crisis. If the refugees instead of staying in Europe had moved to the Americas, it would also have effected Europe badly since it would have meant a labour shortage during a time when the European machine park and infrastructure necessary to build machines was damaged. Also, the European refugees in North America would have had to integrate to a labour market which – despite being feverish hot – could hardly take in millions of people at one go, thus affecting both the time it would take for the refugees to be integrated and the wage increases for all workers. However, developing the European economy was good for the US and Canadian export industries and led to an americanization of Europe which led to a massive European consumption of US culture.

The situation today is not comparable to the world of the 1940’s. Today in most of Europe, North America and East Asia, labour is on its way out as a production factor, and the economy is becoming both simpler and more complex. Soon, the four production factors will become three, and then at the end of this century (if we do not destroy the biosphere) two. This means that even if developed economies grow, the demand for labour is not growing indefinetly but rather fluctuating, for a long-trend in a slightly downward motion (within twenty years, half of the jobs in developed economies will vanish, while the replacement rate has not increased in the same amount).

The world today is characterised by uneven development as well. We have previously mentioned on this blog that all levels of human societies are existing simultaneously in our world today. Ten million human beings today are for example stone age hunter-gatherers. Billions are living in feudal agricultural societies. Many societies are collapsed or rapidly growing industrial-age economies. And then the most developed societies are in a transition phase towards post-labour economies. This means that the skills learnt by adult peasants from agricultural feudalized societies are difficult to adapt to the needs of an industrial economy – and the more so to emerging post-labour economies (which themselves have not yet solved or even been willing to solve the contradiction of social safety nets adapted for industrial mass-labour societies under the emergent paradigm). While just a small trickle of the world’s total number of refugees have arrived in developed economies, we can already today see a trend of alienation, unemployment, anger and social exclusion.

Yet, what we can learn from the displacement after the Second World War was that it was solved in a comparatively very smooth manner by an influx of capital and technology, as well as a massive demand for labour. While it is unlikely that the demand of labour would emerge in today’s economies – developed and developing apart from those totally wrecked by war – it stands clear that investments and resource transfers are necessary, and that interventions – rather than to be primarily directed at the refugees themselves – should be divested into the economies as a whole to create the space to include those newly arrived.

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Nowadays, unlike during the 1940’s, refugee crises tend to freeze in time, the first being the Palestinian exodus of 1948-49. There are still people today living in refugee camps who are grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those original Palestinians who were displaced in 1948. The refugee camps in their turn have been transformed into crammed towns, characterised by poverty, statelessness and few opportunities to live. Yet, these refugees are living comparably good lives in comparison to the populations displaced from Afghanistan, the wars in Central Africa and recently Syria.

When such situations emerge and the fabric of society collapses, resulting in the collapse of the state itself when the base of the social order is removed, results in the emergence of black holes in the globalized nation-state system established during and after de-colonization. The world today consist of roughly 200 “nation-states“, but most of these nation-states are not founded on nationality or any other form of sense of common identity. Rather, most of these states are the remnants of colonial territories in old maritime European empires, consisting of either pseudo-racially based hierarchical systems imposed by the imperialists, or of internally suspicious or even hostile tribal nations that often exist on all sides of the border in various sub-state institutions. Thus, many of the world’s states are relying on the passive consent of the population rather than on active support, and when there is a weak sense of nationality, there is a risk that violence can erupt when resources turn scarce or when elites are struggling for state control.

Many states in the world can thus aptly be described as time bombs set to detonate. And some have already detonated.

I am of course referring to Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, Yemen and Syria. Right now, the Iraqi state is collapsing as well.

Other states in the developing world have collapsed partially during their years of independence, but are still having a central government trudging on. Some have even recovered somewhat. There I am primarily thinking of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Algeria, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Tajikistan, Colombia, Haiti and Ethiopia. Most of these states are however fragile, and fluctuation on the raw materials market or in the grain and rice prices can create shocks that destroy many years of development in one go. These states can very well collapse if they become unstable again.

There is also a third category of states, namely time bombs which have not yet burst. Countries like Venezuela, Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria. Most of these states are very large, with humonguous populations, and just if one of them would collapse or become more unstable, the crisis could spread in the near regions and also worsen the situation in poorer, less developed neighbouring states, especially as fourth-generation cross-state insurgency groups like the IS are developing and taking hold.

Climate Change and state fragility

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The process of climate change points towards the direction of a relatively warmer climate, as well as an increase in carbon dioxide. This points towards a wetter and warmer climate in some regions, and drier and hotter climate in other regions. Traditionally, the population of the Earth has generally been concentrated in a belt from South-East and East Asia to Western Europe, the so-called temperate zones of Eurasia. Most of the great civilizations you’ve read about in history have been located there.

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The thing is, this region will become comparably less habitable for human  beings if climate change is accelerating, affecting glaciers in the Himalayas, droughts, changing monsoon patterns and affecting the sea level and habitability alongst the coastlines. Thus, resources would either need to be transported to these regions, or the population would have to adapt by either consuming less or shrinking (through emigration, or in the worst case-scenario, a population implosion due to epidemics, resource wars and genocides). Due to the relative poverty of many of the economies in the region, we can expect that the number of climate refugees grow to exceed the number of war refugees currently in the world, by several factors.

6m_Sea_Level_RiseAs you can see on this map, the regions most vulnerable to changed sea levels are also those regions that tend to be populated, especially Bangladesh, the Nile Valley Delta, the Niger Delta, the Yangtze Delta and other great cradles of civilization. This would not displace tens of millions of people, but hundreds of millions of people. Of course, there is the possibility to build great dams and walls to adapt to the changes – and that would most likely be done around large cities in the developed world (and possibly China). But impoverished countries like Bangladesh and poor countries like Nigeria have little resources to invest in such a transformation, and thus would most likely suffer collapse and near-total displacement into nearby regions, which themselves will be coping with their own problems.

This domino effect could risk an increase in armed conflicts and ethnic cleansings, leading to a situation where Syria-like civil wars burst up in fragile states all over the world, leading to anarchy and chaos.

How to address the refugee issues

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Everyone knows that our system for managing refugee crises today doesn’t work. It creates a culture of helplessness, dependency and vulnerability where it works. Where it doesn’t work, it subjects millions of people to lives short, nasty and brutish. Even though the entrepreneur Jason Buzi’s recent proposal to create a “country” for all refugees is – for all accounts – unrealistic and utopian (there needs to be significant aid to that country, it needs infrastructure and an educated population to manage that infrastructure), it still can be seen as a step in the right direction in terms of how we discuss these problems. As for the EOS perspective, it needs to be discussed amongst the EOS members, members of our affiliate organisations and of course within the Board – but these are my own personal notes in this regard.

  • Refugee camps and refugee shelters shall be standardised on a level that allows electricity, fresh-water and education, and shall primarily be run in a democratic manner by those who inhabit them, though with as much support as necessary from the organisation responsible for the sites.
  • Education, gymnastics and mental counseling should be available and of a high quality. There should also be a minimum of delineation between the camp/shelter and the surrounding areas, allowing the refugees considerable freedom under controlled forms.
  • Large refugee camps shall be counted as international subjects, thus giving stateless refugees a passport that can allow them to travel and set up residency in other places, or study in other places and return.
  • There must be a concerted effort to intervene in conflict zones and to predict where conflict zones can emerge. In terms of collapsed states, this means that the primary concern should be to end the conflict as soon as possible, and force through a settlement. If it is judged that there needs to be an external policing force there, they shall always be mandated by an organisation with global responsibilities and influence from actors representing as many human beings as possible. Such a global organisation can also delegate the mission to either one or several regional peace-keeping forces.
  • A larger share of all defence budgets should move towards international crises to reduce them, since they present the largest political threat against regional and global stability today.
  • All forces assigned with keeping or establishing peace should be subject to the IPCC or equivalent organisation.
  • Instead of trying to build or support dysfunctional nation-states, the forms of government established should be fitted towards 1) the will of the local population, 2) the complex needs of the region, 3) the need to protect human rights, through distributing power in a de-centralised manner.
  • When a state or territory has collapsed, there must be efforts to rebuild it and engage displaced people in the reconstruction efforts.
  • If there is a need to relocate a large population a long way, it must be met as a logistical issue and treated holistically, which means that it must be taken into consideration  how the relocation will affect both the region where people are leaving and the region where they are entering, in relation to how large groups we are talking about and the ecological, social and economic factors in both regions.
  • There must be created legal and safe ways of people to move, acclimatise and settle.
  • When looking at refugee crises and refugees to relocate, there must be efforts to ensure that vulnerable groups such as children and females (in often very patriarchal social contexts) are given extra focus.

Regarding the for every day increasing risk that the entire population distribution of this planet will shift from the temperate to the sub-arctic regions, that would need to be addressed by establishing “regions of settlement” in the sub-arctic and sub-antarctic areas – especially then areas with low population density given the damaging effects that mega-cities have on the environment. Thus, Canada, parts of Oceania, southern South America and eastern Siberia would probably need to be transformed into regions of settlement, to absorb at least a part of the problem.

Ultimately, what has caused the refugee crisis that millions of people currently are suffering is an inadequate nation-state system imposed by a “one-size-fits-all” view on human organisation. If we want to avoid collapsing states or lawless black-hole territories, we would need to focus on more inclusive, communitarian and localised solutions for distributing control and guaranteeing civil rights.

BRICS vs the West

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By Enrique Lescure                 

Introduction

Francis Fukuyama coined the term “end of history” in 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The bipolar world, divided between the Capitalistic and Socialistic blocs, was no more, and was replaced with a world characterised by unipolar hegemony by the United States, and the strengthening of supranational institutions aiming to create a world with harmonised systems pertaining the operations of markets – in order to consolidate and expand a system of globalised financial capitalism and the norms and values it was based upon. The latest incarnation of this strivance towards capital convergence are the free trade agreements of the TPP and the TTIP.

However, this narrative of greater global harmony and a harmonisation towards a world order characterised by the universal adoption of modern western values are challenged by the (re)emergence of major non-western powers, that arrange themselves with a web of cooperation agreements that circumvent the Western sphere.

Ultimately, the issue is about whether we should have a world governed by trans-national institutions that are built to support the current paradigm of a world under the increasing control of multi-national corporations, or if we should move (back) towards a world characterised by great powers with exclusive rights to “spheres of interest”. Neither of these two options seem to be very attractive, but understanding the innate conflict between the BRICS and the West would help us to understand what kind of world we are living in today and towards where we are moving.

Some hard, basic facts

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Human beings throughout the world are largely organised in de-facto hierarchical structures which ultimately are built on brute force. There have been human societies which from the beginning have been egalitarian and peaceful, but those societies have generally been absorbed by aforementioned hierarchical societies. A hierarchical society is generally built on the foundations of an elite which exerts control – either directly or indirectly – over a state, which in its turn exerts direct control over armed civilian and military forces.

The purpose of most states is to uphold law and order and to maintain stability. A seldom openly expressed part of the “keep stability”-aspect of the state’s goals is to protect the interests of the elite and maintaining the status quo. Meanwhile, the general population would accept this as long as their own security and their ability to pursue their own livelihood is not infringed on.

This “power ideology” of preserving the elite and the state underlies basically all other ideologies – no matter what social and socio-economic system we are talking about. It is not pretty – in fact it is often very disgusting and horrendous. However, experiences have shown that abolishing the state through force often leads either to the breakdown of civilised society or the turn towards an even more violent state (consolidated states are often less repressive than newly established ones, mainly because newly established states have not yet attained legitimacy in the eyes of the population).

With this I would not claim that all states are equally tyrannical. For example, the Nordic states are less repressive in many regards than for example the United States, when it comes to the usage of force against their own population if needs would arise. The United States in its turn, is a far more accountable social arrangement than for example the Russian Federation, where officials and oligarchs can prey on ordinary citizens with impunity – and finally Russia is probably a far more safe society than North Korea, Haiti and the Islamic State.

However, the hierarchical power relationship exists in different degrees in all these societies, though it varies through times.

Ultimately, what has characterised the history of the world’s civilizations has been a struggle between the elites of different societies in establishing sovereign spheres of interest, or in case of small peripheral states like Sweden, Cuba and Qatar, establishing their own national sovereignty and ensuring the safety of their elite and citizens.

The United States found itself as the world’s hegemon during the 90’s, and moved towards strengthening international institutions and easening trade regulations during the Clinton Presidency, with the implicit goal of securing status quo by creating a supranational elite not tied to any particular nation-state, and to secure economic growth and thereby security by keeping the oceans open.

While the states of the world would renounce their economic sovereignty to multi-national corporations and supranational military_by_country_spending-by-countryinstitutions, the political borders and recognised states of the world would be protected by the international system headed by American leadership. There are two reasons for this, firstly to reduce the threats towards trade and stability, and secondly to attain tools to prevent aspiring regional great powers from carving out interest spheres.

This order rests on three legs, namely international treaties (a legalistic framework), continued economic growth (an insurance against political instability) and American military power (since the Gulf War a viable threat to aspiring regional powers).

What the BRICS are and how to understand them

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The BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The BRICS can be understood as an economic acronym denoting five emerging large economies in the non-western world. It can also be understood as a collaboration between five regional great powers regarding economic issues. What BRICS ultimately is, however, can be understood in terms of the Eurasian landmass, where three of the four BRICS powers are not only located, but also are directly bordering one another. Two of the five BRICS powers contain almost ten times the population of the other three powers together.

However, if we want to understand the BRICS, we need to understand it as a part of the reapproachment between China and Russia, two regional powers that complete one another in many regards (Russia has ICBM’s and vast natural resources, China has capital and an oversupply of labour) and who also both desire to increase their influence in two regions – at the expense of the American-led world order.

This does not say that there are regions where both powers compete and where they potentially could clash in the future, but neither power is interested in a confrontation, mostly because both powers feel that their primary geopolitical problem is related to security and a sense of curtailment by the West – Russia in eastern Europe and China in the sea region outside of their Pacific Coast.

While India is economically important, the main reason for the inclusion of India in the cooperation is that India and China have been adversaries since China’s annexation of Tibet in 1950 and the Sino-Indian border conflicts of the 1960’s. While India has always had good relations with the Soviet Union and its successor state the Russian Federation, China has been an ally of India’s adversary Pakistan and has been perceived as a great threat to the north.

India – sheltered as it is by the Himalayas, the Hindukush and the Arakans – is more concerned with keeping economic growth and preventing ethnic and religious separatism than with expanding their influence beyond their borders (though they have engaged themselves in neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, the United States has generally not opposed the Indian sphere of interest very much).

Lastly, the inclusion of South Africa and Brazil is mutually beneficial both for the great Asian powers and for the non-Asian powers involved, since it will give the Asian powers access to resources from Latin America and Africa, and the ability to project their power there, while South Africa and especially Brazil are recognised as great powers and can gain increased investments from Asia, so to diversify the capital invested within their economies.

In terms of agenda, however, India, Brazil and South Africa are not aiming primarily to expand their spheres of interest, but rather to maintain themselves and secure their economic growth, whereas Russia and China are the two main powers with an agency inside the context of the BRICS.

What is the ideology of the BRICS?

Ultimately, the ideology of the BRICS is one which asserts the perceived right for non-western elites to replicate western neo-imperialism within their own spheres, to exert control of their context of economic growth, while still adhering to the values and norms of the growth-oriented model of globalization. Therefore, the BRICS cannot be seen as a progressive force in relation to the power structures of the world, since the aim is not to transform the power structures but to attain them and shape them after the needs of Asian and Third World elites.

At the same time, it is dubious whether the view that the United States is facing Russia alone in Europe and China alone in Asia is correct. While China is undoubtly taking advantage of the Saudi-created fiscal crisis in Russia, China would not strive towards the collapse of the Putinist regime in Russia – because that would weaken the Chinese position in a short time-frame.

What has brought China and Russia together has been the increased western security entanglements in the border regions perceived as vital by both powers. Nixon managed to coax China into an informal alliance with the US against the Soviet Union, through giving China what they desired (recognition and weapons), but nowadays, giving either China or Russia what they desire would lead to the jeopardization of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of key western allies (The Republic of China, the Baltic States, etc).

The future is dark and full of errors

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This decade began with the Arab Spring, which saw many dictatorships in the Middle East and Northern Africa collapse, with four states having turned into failed states. While economic growth and urbanization have brought hundreds of millions out of abject poverty, unsatisfied demands for political influence amongst the population as well as stress factors caused by the depletion of natural resources have driven and will drive societies towards the verge of political collapse.

This will increase the number of areas in the world where crises can emerge. Moreover, China and India are two societies which consist of entire civilizations, which have constantly increasing needs for securing their energy and food supplies – while both societies have political institutions badly adapted towards handling sudden stress factors. This could prompt more and more interventions in the future, and therefore increasing flashpoints between the West and the non-western world.

This is very bad, since what we need for the world in the future is not a race between great powers to deplete what natural resources are left, but a concerted effort by human beings, states, organisations and businesses to move towards a sustainable future for the human race. This can only be done through cooperation, sacrifices and a realisation that either we all will become winners together, or we will lose separately.

The EOS position

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We denounce the idea of taking sides in a struggle which is happening within a narrative that is thoroughly based on the sham-work that is today’s growth-oriented paradigm. Yes, it is true that the Anglo-American and European powers have engaged in ruthless exploitation of Asia, Africa and Latin America for 500 years. And yes, it is true that within the BRICS powers, corruption and human rights violations are running rampant.

Ultimately, little of that will matter when we are down to our last fresh-water reservoirs, when the soils of the Earth are depleted of their nourishment, when climate change forces migrations of hundreds of millions, and when eco-system after eco-system collapses.

What is important is to increase our presence in social media and to convey a positive message of a realistic, attainable and better future for humanity, and to engage people to take part in the transition from our current paradigm into a new one that is based on the physical reality of our planet. This means that we must work to strengthen the legitimacy of international institutions, protect human rights and try to stay clear from cheering on one or the other side.

Our primary loyalty must under all circumstances be towards Terra, our common home.

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